Category Archives: Where You’re From

Music from the home front.

New Philly Releases: Eat Your Birthday Cake and Bridge Underwater

Do you miss Grandaddy’s quiet, winding brand of indie rock? If not, please have a technician check your Missing Awesome Things that Are No Longer Around unit: it’s clearly on standby. But if so, Philly’s Eat Your Birthday Cake ride Grandaddy’s groove so damn hard and well it’ll make your needle skip a beat. On Monday, May 2nd, Eat Your Birthday Cake will release Enemies for free download and limited edition CD-R. And it’s a doozy. To celebrate the album’s release, they’re throwing a block party in Fishtown, hosted by Cloud Entertainment, at 219 Mercer Street on Saturday, May 7th. [Facebook Event] Your grandaddy would have wanted you to be there.

Eat Your Birthday Cake, “Rock Stars” [Facebook]

In other great Philly release news, Bridge Underwater totally zagged when I thought they were gonna zig. Their latest single, “Share Time,” ditches their Beatles via Elephant Six sound to embrace… ’90s Weezer/grunge? And nails it? Who woulda thunk it?

Bridge Underwater, “Share Time” [Bandcamp]

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Staten Island Girls

No, not the Katy Perry parody that lit up Islanders’ news feeds last summer…

The Bad Mouth Betties are a quartet of talented young ladies from the fifth borough. Boasting three superb singers who regularly swap lead vocal duties, the Betties are at their best when performing close, tight harmonies and nailing classic girl-group backup vocal arrangements.

They released a four-song EP in the fall, and recently debuted a video for the single “Sunglasses,” written by my good friend and longtime bandmate Nicole Pignatelli.

Bad Mouth Betties, “Sunglasses” [Buy]

“St. George,” a gospel-pop number penned by the group’s keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Tina Kenny, is the other standout track on the EP.

Bad Mouth Betties, “St. George” [Buy]

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Shaolin dance party: Paragraph’s “Powernap”

ParagraphBack in the summer of 2005, my brother, some friends, and I started performing a few cover tunes each Monday night at an open mic at Martini Red, a dive bar in Stapleton, Staten Island. A quartet of college students called Paragraph also performed each week, and they were by far the most exciting original act I had seen on the island. Their early stuff was mostly quirky dance-punk — angular, Gang-of-Four-type guitar stabs, driving bass lines and disco beats — fun, catchy, and always danceable.

The quartet became a trio, and over the years they honed their sound, experimenting with drum machines, adding layers of keyboards, working with other local musicians, and in 2009 they released a self-titled eight-track disc. “Body Part(y)” is one of the standouts.

PARAGRAPH by ParagraphParagraph, “Body Part(y)” [Buy PARAGRAPH]

Paragraph recently released a video for their single “Powernap,” which is available on a three-song EP, Chic Punk One. As with their self-titled album, the vocals are too buried in the mix for my taste — I have some trouble actually making out what singer Danny Lane is saying — but it’s a fun club-banger of a tune, and the video is slick. (Plus, it employs a variation of my all-time favorite music video conceit: the band traveling to the gig, where they eventually perform the song we’ve been hearing all along [see Huey Lewis and the News’ “I Want a New Drug”].) It’s been a thrill watching these guys grow as a band, and I’m glad they’re around to rep Staten Island.

Paragraph - Chic Punk OneParagraph, “Powernap” [Buy Chic Punk One]

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This Is Philadelphia

If the number of posts I’ve written about Philly’s Sun Airway makes me seem like a bit of fuanboy, so be it. Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier drops this week and it’s available on MOG (free 14 day trial) right now. Back in March, I called it my most anticipated Philly release of 2010, and it’s been worth the wait: a stunning debut. Let’s say for comparison’s sake that Radiohead’s millennial music evoked the coldness of the technological age, then Sun Airway’s music is the age’s warm, swaddling embrace.

And this video for “Put the Days Away,” perfectly captures the beauty of a homecoming bike ride in Philly’s dark streets. Somehow makes me miss Philly, even though I’m in Philly as I type. It’s that kind of video: negative capability-inducing. Also: pretty girl on a bike.

Sun Airway, “Put the Days Away” [Buy]

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Object Attachment

The last time +/- {plus/minus} updated their blog was on my birthday, Jan 3. The last time I saw some of the band members’ previous outfit, Versus, live was Jan 3 some years ago. Isn’t that a pointless, delightful little coincidence that absolutely no one cares about but me?

On the subject of object attachment, I recently read research that has found that people–duh–attach special significance to the number of their birthday. But I would argue that there’s no bias here; 3 is clearly the best number.

+/- {plus/minus} just released a CD of previously unreleased tracks, Pulled Punches. So far, so good. But, plus/minus: Could you have thought about the industry & bloggers when you constructed this stupid, stupid band name? FYI, you are pretty much unfindable on

I’m posting the track “Pencil Me In.” Does anyone know if the track “All Dead, All Dead” is an Elliot Smith tribute? It certainly sounds like it is, in content and form.

I’m also posting a Versus track, one of my faves, “Shooting Star.” Anyone who makes an album titled Deep Red deserves our respect. Because deep red clearly is the best color, and not because my birthstone is garnet.

+/- {Plus/Minus}: “Pencil Me In”

Versus: “Shooting Star”

You can buy Pulled Punches on the band’s website or download the MP3 album here.

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…but a lot of nostalgia has hurt plenty of people.

After 12 years of solo projects, stints with other bands, and oblivion, the four original members of Soundgarden have finally reunited this summer to perform in Lollapalooza and record a brand new song, “Black Rain,” to top off the 2-disc retrospective compilation, Telephantasm, released last week.

Soundgarden’s catalog (particularly the last three albums: Badmotorfinger (1991), Superunknown (1994), and Down on the Upside (1996)) is quite likely the most foundational musical text of my life.  If you disagree with any of my musical opinions, it’s probably because your tastes were not also formed by listening to Soundgarden.

In highschool, if I was learning to play a snippet of a song on guitar, it was a snippet of a Soundgarden song.

The first website I ever put together was an aol-hosted Soundgarden fansite.

Chris Cornell has the same first name and the same birthday as me.

And it’s not just music.  When I first bought Down on the Upside, it was the summer before sophomore year of high school, and Homer’s The Odyssey was the assigned summer reading (we had been given a terrible, terrible, prose translation).  The album and the epic will forever be associated in my memory.  Any track off the album makes me think of Odysseus trying to return home, and any reference to Calypso, Scylla, Charybdis, Sirens, etc. has Chris Cornell’s vocal backing.

To fully excavate the influence Soundgarden has had on me would require a post longer than the one I’m willing to write or you to read.  But please allow Telephantasm‘s release to suffice as an excuse for me to share with you a representative sample of the soundtrack of my early teenage years.

Soundgarden, “Rusty Cage” [Buy Badmotorfinger]

Soundgarden, “Head Down” [Buy Superunknown]

Soundgarden, “Boot Camp” [Buy Down on the Upside]

Soundgarden, “Black Rain” [Buy Telephantasm]

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Eating Lehigh Valley Crow: Headless Horseman

A month ago, after Chris T posted on Bethlehem’s Musik Fest, I made a post (joshingly) calling Lehigh Valley out as Philly’s musical backwater.

Luckily, my pallet for crow is excellent, as fresh from the Noise Narcs inbox comes Headless Horseman, a duo originally from Allentown, now half-living in New York. They assure me that they are not part of the New York Times‘ famed Lehigh Valley-to-New York commuters (a trend as made-up as their anointing Philly as the 6th Borough), although they’ve had their “fair share of riding the Bieber Bus between atown and NYC.”

Even though they’ve made the seemingly inevitable indie move to Brooklyn (where they’ll soon play their first gig, opening for Animal Collective’s Avey Tare, details below), their EP was finished in Allentown. That seems appropriate. After all, the duo claims as their own a little island outside Darktown, which the All Knowing Internet describes as “an abandoned village with the Delaware Indian name of Hockentaqua. … Close by is an area the locals call ‘The Alamo.’ As you approach it, you’re supposed to hear strange noises and see eerie lights.” Their music bears out this woodsy-eeriness meets the digital age meme. If this is what the Lehigh Valley sounds like, I’ll gladly eat that esteemed valley’s crow.

Noise Narcs bonus points for the yuckyuck file pun for a song title.

Headless Horseman, “Wavlngth” [Stream/Buy]

Saturday September 24th, 2010 @ Glasslands Gallery
289 Kent Ave., Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY
w/ Avey Tare (of Animal Collective) DJ, Crocodiles and Kria Brekkan (formerly of Mum)

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Do you like beer? Do you like food? You'll like Musikfest.

Then-candidate Obama at the Bethlehem Brew Works in April 2008.

As a resident of Bethlehem, PA, I had yet to make a post in the “Where You’re From” category.  It’s not that there is no music scene here, of course.  There are loads of live music venues and a number of universities that draw touring bands, but our close proximity to both Philadelphia and New York results in most of the quality local acts migrating out of the Lehigh Valley.

But given that it’s Musikfest, the 10 days in every August when the population of the Lehigh Valley converges on the streets of downtown Bethlehem and police look the other way as we drink lots of beer, spend too much on food, and enjoy hours and hours of free music, I feel obliged to make a post.

If you were actually planning on making your way to the Christmas City this weekend, I recommend these guides by The El Vee and Lehigh Valley with Love.  I’ll assume instead that you’ve never heard of Musikfest and let a quick outline suffice.

As a fire needs heat, fuel, and oxygen to ignite, Musikfest requires, in ascending order of importance: music, food, and beer.

Beer: We drink our beer out of 24 oz. Musikfest mugs.  They cost $9 this year ($12 for the ones that have blinking lights built into them), but you don’t need to buy a new one each year.  So you can tell who’s been coming to Musikfest for the longest time by the style of mug they’re carrying.  Bourbon street rules temporarily go into effect and we drink our beer outside, on the sidewalks, streets and under bridges.  Despite the best efforts of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, likely the most dickheaded Liquor Control Board in the country, the best place to get your mug filled if you’re a beer snob like me is in a local bar instead of at a tent, where you’ll have to use Musikfest tickets to pay $6 for an MGD, not that there’s anything wrong with that.  I recommend the Bethlehem Brew Works (who are apparently also selling half gallon growlers with sweet carrying pouches this year, what?) or the Starfish Brasserie, which currently has Stone IPA on tap.

Morning Call blogger Bill White knows a thing or two about the food at Musikfest.

Food: The food is really good and ranges from a pickle-on-a-stick and German sausage to Hogar Crea kabobs and Kenyan masala wraps, reflecting both the diversity and the appetites of the Lehigh Valley.

Music: You will hear some polka music at Musikfest; that is a given.  You will probably dance to it.  Apart from that, however, there are two basic kinds of concert at Musikfest, the nightly big-name concert that you must buy tickets for and the free concerts that set up everywhere else.  Of that first variety, the groups are usually selected to appeal to children and their parents (and their parents).  This year’s big draw is Adam Lambert, but Norah Jones, Counting Crows, Martina McBride, some incarnation of Lynyrd Skynyrd and some incarnation of Sublime were/are making an appearance.  I usually don’t make it to these concerts, but several years ago I made it to Alice Cooper and it was unconditionally awesome.

Of the second variety, you can see this years full schedule here, but it’s a mixed bag.  Folk, jazz, and rock are usually pretty well represented though not by their most glamorous or talented representatives.  The Red Elvises (Russian surf-rock) and Los Straitjackets are perennial favorites. One corner of Main Street features Native American music and dance.  This year the Wildflower Cafe, a delicious vegetarian live-music venue on Bethlehem’s Southside, put together an interesting lineup that included Emily and the Similars and this jazz/blues cellist named Trevor Exter.  You can usually find at least a few acts that will surprise you by being good.

Things Musikfest doesn’t need, but has:

  • born-again assholes!
  • some weirdo who wears a bird mask and travels around with a medieval 4-ton church bell piano thing called a “carillon” playing music that is like Christmas but way scary!
  • human/police-horse altercations!
  • go-karts!
  • fireworks!
  • arts and crafts to buy! for example, leather belts and candles!
  • platzes! (the various stages/areas of Musikfest are given names like Americaplatz, Festplatz, Volksplatz, Lyrikplatz, etc.  “platz” is German for “place”)

Seriously, it’s a good time.

The Andrews Sisters, “Pennsylvania Polka”

Norah Jones, “It’s Gonna Be”

Trevor Exter, “One Too Many Goodbyes”

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Khyber RIP

A much-prettier-than-ever-existed Khyber as it appeared in the NYT

Brian Howard has a great piece in this week’s City Paper on the long-rumored and now-confirmed closing down of Philly mainstay The Khyber as a music venue. It’ll still be open as (hopefully not too) scrubbed beer bar, with a new food concept. Which, given its history as one of Philly’s earliest craft bars, is some consolation.

That I haven’t seen all that many shows at The Khyber says a lot about its recent past. By the time I was living in Philly and of drinking age, 2005, The Khyber was a shadow of the place that hosted early shows by Beck, Guided by Voices, a secret gig by Iggy Pop, and, as booker Bryan Dilworth puts it, “the bulk of the Sub Pop, the Amphetamine Reptile, the Touch and Go, the beginning of Merge, the beginning of Simple Machines, the middle of K., the bulk of Dischord.” Which itself was a far cry from the Middle Eastern freak jazz bar named “The Khyber Pass” it started as. Philly has changed a lot since then. Old City’s gentrification has flooded into a Jersey backwater, and other, further north, parts of the city have risen up. Venues like The Fire, Kung Fu Necktie, Johnny Brenda’s, and others have sprung up like gentrifying weeds. And local booker Sean Agnew, who started R5 as a more humble DIY outfit, has expanded into the Pitchfork-friendly territory that the Khyber previously held. And, since R5 booked shows at other bars but never the Khyber, I’d say R5 quickened (unintentionally, of course) The Khyber’s passing. Not to knock R5, which has been a boon for this city.

My favorite quote from the piece, a variation on the everything’s gone to hell trope for the punk generation:

The rock scene nowadays is too organized. No surprises. Very controlled. Venues have air conditioning now. Bands seem to show up on time. Onstage monitors apparently work more often than not. It’s been a long while since I’ve seen actual vomit and/or nudity at a rock show. Most bands seem to know how to play their instruments. This is boring. I blame the computer.

-Rich Fravel, ex-booker, present real estate agent

I can’t remember the last show I saw at The Khyber. Many of them were energetic, the sound frequently lackluster. I do remember leaving one show on the second song of the first opening act. The last good show I do remember was a wonderful set by Little Joy in November of 2008. I got drunk and aggressively set my brother up with a girl from Jersey.

Adieu, Khyber. Not even being part of the Gray Lady’s sixth borough could save you. Wish I had seen you in your heyday. Next time around, promise. Oh, and of course, I’ll still drink in you. So, you know, there’s that.

Little Joy, “The Next Time Around” [Buy their self-titled at Amazon]

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An Unswimmy Day with the Great Lake Swimmers

Sometimes in Madison, you get to see a great band for free, such as Toronto’s Great Lake Swimmers, a band I’ve been quietly following for a few years now and who played at the Marquette festival in Yahara Park. It was rainy today, but quite a few of us braved the stormy skies to get an earful of this charming little indie folk band. A highlight was when the lyrics spoke of the sun coming out and the sun actually picked that moment to peek through the sky, to great applause.

and then we ate ice cream:

mint oreo, to be precise.

It was a lovely Sunday.

Great Lake Swimmers: Gonna Make it Through This Year

Great Lake Swimmers: Everything Is Moving So Fast

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